IN NOVEMBER, MANY OF THE BIG PLAYERS IN THE UK HEAVY-LIFTING EQUIPMENT INDUSTRY WERE ON MERSEYSIDE FOR THEIR ANNUAL EXHIBITION, LIFTEX. ORGANISED BY THE LIFTING EQUIPMENT ENGINEERS ASSOCIATION (LEEA), IT BROUGHT TOGETHER SUPPLIERS AND TESTERS, WITH CRANE OPERATORS, CUSTOMERS, AND LIFTING SPECIALISTS. MARGO COLE REPORTS.
Now in its 11th year as a national exhibition, LiftEx has grown considerably from its humble beginnings as a series of local roadshows with a handful of tabletop exhibits. 2015’s event was held at Exhibition Centre Liverpool, a brand new venue built on the city’s iconic waterfront which opened its doors for the ﬁrst time just two months before LiftEx. For the ﬁrst time, the exhibition was accompanied by a conference: planned to tackle some of the major challenges currently facing the lifting-industry. According to the organisers, 86 different companies exhibited at LiftEx. 1500 people attended the show. Half were involved in construction and/or civil engineering, and around 20% in heavy engineering. Other sectors represented included oil and gas, utilities, power generation, and ports and maritime.
A considerable number of the exhibitors were showing off lifting essentials, like hooks, slings, chains, winches and spreader beams. Among them were Crosby, Van Beest, Gunnebo, Aluexbeams, Cartec, SpanSet, Atlas, RUD, Brindley Chains, LTM, Columbus McKinnon, and George Taylor. For many of these ﬁrms, a major concern is how to replace previous, accustomed business from the oil and gas sectors.
“A key challenge at the moment is the fall in the oil industry,” William Hackett utility director, Chris Wiggins, told HeavyTorque. “The companies are losing people because they’re reducing, and those people may be the link for ourselves. On the other hand, they’re keen to save money, so that does open up opportunities for them to talk to more people.”
Another LiftEx exhibitor, SpanSet material-handling group manager, Martin Relton, agreed that the oil and gas sector has slowed up: “A lot of the heavy end of industry is offshore-based, either in the North Sea or West Africa. We are still doing offshore wind, but oil and gas has slowed up. There are still projects ongoing, but it takes a long time for schemes to come through, so there will be a knock-on effect next year.”
Both ﬁrms acknowledged that things have improved in the construction industry since the recession. But they are not convinced that this would necessarily bring many beneﬁts to the heavy-lifting sector. “For us, safety-products are growing in the construction industry, but when it comes to heavy-lifting products, we call heavy-lifting 100t – and you don’t generally lift those kind of loads in construction,” said Relton.
Wiggins added: “We always get an upsurge if construction goes up, but I think there’s a lack of conﬁdence in the market to invest in major projects – be they road or rail or power stations. Projects like HS2, or new power stations, take 10 years to build. These are not going ahead yet, but once they start, people will have the conﬁdence to invest in equipment.”
According to Wiggins, the water industry has proved to be fairly “recession-proof.” The latest spending period, which started in April 2015, is resulting in new orders. It’s the same in the rail sector, thanks to investment in overhead line electriﬁcation.
For Gunnebo Industries, the biggest growth area is aquaculture – ﬁsh farming – particularly in Norway and Scotland. The company’s products are not used much for lifting but for holding the pens in place during rough seas and heavy weather. “Oil and gas is quite low at moment, but the rest of the UK – construction, civils, manufacturing and renewables – is pretty good for us,” said Gunnebo general manager, UK and Ireland, Justin Whelan at LiftEx. “But the major growth is in aquaculture.
They need specialist equipment because there is a lot of pressure, stress and tension – because of the movement of water.
“We use a unique galvanising process for these products to give longevity in harsh marine environments, and also to prevent contamination.”
Whelan says that one of the biggest concerns for well-established suppliers in the UK heavy-lifting market is competition from products that don’t conform to European standards. “One of our initiatives is to educate customers,” he told HeavyTorque at the show. “We see substandard products – without the right identiﬁcation marks and traceability codes, labelled with safe-working loads they shouldn’t have. “We have put a presentation together for customers, so we can go through the standards – to give them peace of mind.”
Among the other exhibitors at 2015’s LiftEx were personal protective-equipment suppliers, and hire companies. Lifting-equipment supplier Worlifts used the event to launch a new specialist-tool hire division, HydraHire, offering a wide range of specialist lifting, bolting, and jacking tools; while Lifting Gear UK announced that it has just invested in a 900t-capacity lifting-beam.
A wide range of technological lifting-aids was also on display, including RFID tags, transmitters, and remote control systems. One of the busiest exhibitors was UK ﬁrm BlokCam, which has designed and produced a wireless camera system to be mounted on the hook block of a crane. The camera provides high-deﬁnition images – and full sound – to a screen in the operator’s cab, giving a real time audio-visual feed of what is happening at the end of the hook.
BlokCam’s national sales manager James Desira told HeavyTorque that they developed the system after requests from some of the UK’s largest construction companies – for use on their tower cranes. “Some just said they needed a camera system to give a visual image of the load; some want a recording facility so they have a record in case of accidents; some of them want sound and others don’t,” he said. As a result, BlokCam has developed a range of cameras – all based on the same technology – which cover all the options, including 4G remote dial-in.
“Three of the systems have a live-record facility; some are visual-only; and some have sound. And there is the remote-view capability,” said Desira, who explained that, because the system is wireless, it can be used on telescopic cranes, as well as tower cranes.
BlokCam is adamant that the system is not designed to replace a banksman on site, but to improve safety, communication and productivity. “Our primary mission is to promote the safety aspect,” said Desira. “This is an aid that reinforces the relationship between an operator and a banksman.”
Safety was a focus for many of the exhibitors and for the event’s organiser LEEA. The organisation started out as the Chain Testers Association, and inspection and testing are still core activities for many of its 900 members. At LiftEx, the organisation had set up the ‘LEEA Challenge’ – a fun and competitive way to test the competency of lifting-equipment inspectors, with the prize of a Samsung tablet on offer.
“We set up six pieces of lifting equipment; some have faults and some don’t,” explained LEEA learning and development manager Andrew Wright. “People have to inspect them and tell us what’s wrong, and whether they’re ﬁt for purpose or not. Then they have to look at the documentation to see if it is OK, factually correct, and current.”
The LEEA Challenge at LiftEx was a condensed version of a proﬁciency test that LEEA has been rolling out in Abu Dhabi over the last ﬁve years. In that test, inspectors have 10 pieces of equipment and accompanying paperwork to look at, over four hours, and they have to write a full report for each. So far, 56 inspectors have been through the competency test in Abu Dhabi: LEEA is now looking at developing a competency matrix for testers and inspectors worldwide.
“There is currently no industry recognised framework for competency,” Wright told HeavyTorque. “We need to involve members – get their buy-in for something that can be used to assess and verify their competence, as well as giving individuals a framework for their own personal development.”
LEEA acts as a membership organisation for companies within the lifting industry, but also provides training for individuals, as well as publishing technical guidance. It operates an Academy which offers a range of courses in all aspects of lifting-operations (with both face to face and online teaching), and recently launched Team Card – a simple identiﬁcations scheme that shows a technician has passed LEEA’s Diploma for testing, inspecting, and maintaining lifting equipment.
In addition to LiftEx, LEEA organises events throughout the year, including roadshows, conferences and seminars around the world. Next year, LiftEx 2016 will be held at the Aberdeen Exhibition & Conference Centre on 23-24 November.
Alongside the LiftEx exhibition, the 2015 event also included a conference and an ‘Innovation Fast Pitch’ – where companies and organisations were given 30 minutes to present their latest technology and equipment.
The conference covered a wide range of topics, including the use of lifting equipment at CERN, home to the Large Hadron Collider; lifting and rigging in the entertainment industry; hoists in pharmaceutical applications; and the capability of modern-day wire rope. Safety issues were high on the agenda, with one speaker – Checkmate Lifting & Safety managing director and incoming LEEA chairman Oliver Auston – highlighting the rigorous quality assurance requirements for a simple safety harness, compared with those required for a lifting sling. “Why do we have such poor governance in the lifting-gear industry compared with other industries?” he questioned.
Issues of lifting-safety were brought home in a highly-visual presentation by Health & Safety Executive principal specialist inspector, Ian Simpson, who looked at recent crane accidents and their causes.
The importance of improving safety in the sector was also a theme in the Innovation Fast Pitch. Van Beest showed its Green Pin nut shackle with extra safety system to prevent the shackle nut from coming loose; Scotload introduced it SmartLoad load cell technology; and Ikusi explained how it is using i-safe technology to manage crane-operator access
But the winning ‘fast pitch’ came from Loughborough University, which has developed an aerodynamic lifting-aid that reduces drag on loads during high winds – making it possible to continue working in poor weather.